jueves, 19 de julio de 2012

A Summer Bird-Cage by Margaret Drabble

A Summer Bird-Cage by Margaret Drabble is a book with a hyphen in the title. This is apposite, since it presents a tale of two sisters, Louise and Sarah who, in a short but intense period of their lives, realise that there is an enduring bond between them, even if that bond may be no more than an agreement to compete. Louise and Sarah have both been to Oxford. Louise is three years older than Sarah, who estimates that her sister is thus also three inches taller than herself. They are both beautiful, desirable young women, clearly drawn from society’s existing elite and destined not to tread beyond the boundaries of their class. Sarah’s first person narrative begins as she graduates, just as her older sister is about to marry Stephen Halifax. He is an awfully sophisticated author – whose books, nevertheless and by common consent, are pretty ropey – who seems permanently to roll in it, where ‘it’ refers to a mixture of money and whatever it is that allows an individual to claim the label ‘Bohemian’. (Being born in Bohemia would not endow that status, of course. We are literary, darling, not literal!) And Louise is twenty-four, for God’s sake, if we still demand His approbation in the 1960s. It is time she did something with her life, settled down, started a family, at least aspired to the respectable. Sarah laments her sister’s good fortune. For years one side of her assumed future has yearned to attach such trappings to her own life, a standpoint to which she might only occasionally admit in mixed company. There is a gentleman friend, but he has hopped it across the Atlantic for a while to do some research. She wonders if he will ever come back. In matters of the heart, the immediate is always more likely to stir the emotions. Throughout A Summer Bird-Cage the two sisters interact and we hear Sarah’s version of the envy, the bitchiness, the conflict, the resolution, the co-operation, the closeness and distance of their relationship. There are several parties where new people appear to gossip, to speculate or to provoke. Much is learned in these highly ceremonial gatherings about others. And, as far as plot goes, that’s about it. There are some flaming rows, but no-one draws a gun. There is conflict, but no-one’s life is threatened. There’s duplicity, but the greatest sting is committed by a taxi driver who goes off with a whole two shillings of extra and undeserved tip. But even as early as the nineteen sixties lovers would sometimes take baths together! Via Sarah’s frailties, imaginings, intellect, prejudice and eventual good sense and loyalty, Margaret Drabble presents a magnificent study in character and the human condition. If the reader were to pass Sarah on the street, not only would she be recognisable, she would immediately demand greeting. “By the way,” the reader might ask her, “did you really feel such resentment at everything your sister…” And no doubt Sarah would reply at length and in detail. In A Summer Bird-Cage the encounters are real. The events are credible. The failings of these people are purely human, rendering them completely three dimensional. Yes, the society they inhabit is rarefied, elitist and limited in its world view, but surely they existed and, via this superb novel, still do.

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